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Eagles Draft Outlook: Linebackers

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By: Ben Natan

Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Eagles have been highly active in free agency, adding quality starters and depth players on both sides of the ball. These additions no doubt alter their draft strategies and needs across the roster. Linebacker is a position that really let the Eagles defense down last year. Lack of quality of players combined with injuries to make the Eagles very vulnerable in the middle of the field and against the run. Here is all the factors that could contribute to a draft strategy around linebacker.

The Fangio Factor

Vic Fangio has famously worked with great linebackers including Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Roquan Smith. His scheme has always given linebackers a lot of space and freedom for athletic, physical backers to attack the line of scrimmage and move around in coverage. While some may argue that Fangio’s scheme elevates linebacker play, not the other way around; it is probably most accurate to say there’s a symbiosis between the two and the better the linebackers, the better his defense tends to work.

The Current Roster

The Eagles added a few interesting names through free agency. Devin White is probably the most intriguing, with first round pedigree and moments of legit brilliance during his young career. He has played some uneven ball over the last two years, however, and it’s not a sure thing that he will be a quality starter. Then the team signed Oren Burks and Zach Baun. Baun could play inside or outside as an edge player while Burks has played a lot of football as an off-ball linebacker. Neither player is a difference maker, but give the Eagles some quality depth that they missed last year.

Then there is Nakobe Dean. Dean has played some really good football in the brief moments he’s seen on the field the last two years, but injuries remain a huge question mark for the talented young player. Outside of Dean is Ben VanSumeren, who was just about solid in limited time as a rookie but lacks the athleticism that would be ideal in Fangio’s defense.

Howie Roseman

Howie Roseman has famously placed a lower value on the linebacker position over his tenure as GM. Mychal Kendricks was a second round pick in 2012 and the Eagles have not selected a linebacker higher than the third round since. A lot of the best linebackers to play for the Eagles over the last few years have come through bargain free agency signings like Nigel Bradham and Kyzir White, or through late round and undrafted rookies like TJ Edwards. Howie loves to play the value game for a position he has typically seen as replaceable.

This Draft Class and what it means for the Eagles

This linebacker lacks a top tier, Roquan Smith-level linebacker prospect, but has plenty of Top 50 type players that will contribute at a high level early in their careers. The Eagles might opt for a platoon approach to their linebacker core, but I have a feeling they spend a relatively high pick (before the fourth round) on a linebacker unless they make some big trade for a veteran. Here are some players who would make a lot of sense for the Eagles.

Payton Wilson, NC State: Payton Wilson is one of the enigmatic players in this year’s draft class. Based on tape, testing, and box score Payton Wilson would be a first round pick. He has good size, great speed, and is a ferocious linebacker when he is on the field. He can attack the line of scrimmage as a run defender and a blitzer, he looks great in coverage, and rarely looks out of position. However, he will be 24 when he is drafted and has extensive injury history. These are legitimate concerns that will likely hold him out of being a first round pick. However, if healthy, Wilson figures to be a difference maker as a three down NFL Linebacker.

Jeremiah Trotter Junior, Clemson: Jeremiah Trotter is one of the best defenders in the class on instincts alone. He is a highly intelligent football player who always finds himself in the right place at the right time. That being said, he is undersized as a linebacker and he did not test well despite looking fast on the field. For the Eagles, he might be more of a nickel linebacker than someone who would play all three downs.

Junior Colson, Michigan: Junior Colson is a lot of fun to watch. He plays with a lot of energy and physicality when attacking the line of scrimmage. He is a bit stiff and isn’t great “in space,” but it could also be more about not trusting his eyes in coverage instead of not being a great athlete. Colson, I think, still has his best football in front of him and could be a good pick on day two.

Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M: Edgerrin Cooper has the potential to be the best linebacker in this class. He is a brilliant run defender who combines great quickness and a fearless physicality attacking the line of scrimmage. His athleticism should translate to being a good coverage player, but he has lots of room to grow there. For a patient team with a linebacker friendly scheme, Cooper would make a lot of sense as a player who can develop into a true impact player.

Originally posted on Bleeding Green Nation